'To fulfill the ideals'
~ so states the eighth of our twelve challenges.
And once again Dr. Korczak, like a musical refrain ~ let us repeat his words with which we opened our guide to this eighth call ~ and let its tones build up within us.
This is what he said.
This is what his teachings continue to say to us, his life and his death – his genocidal murder along with Stefa Wilczynska and their two hundred orphans:
One Thing has been given you: the Longing for a better world that isn't, but could be someday; a life of truth and justice.
It is forbidden to leave the world as it is.
This might be the idea, the movement – more than any other – that most characterizes the life orientation, the world outlook we call Judaism. That there is this distance between what is and what could be.
It is the heart of Judaism's so-called pure or absolute monotheism as well as what has been articulated as its ever-deferred messianism. That there is this essentially unbridgeable distance between. All right, yes – given to partial bridging. But always only partial.
Between exile and redemption.
Between This World As It Is and the Coming (Messianic)World
As We Yearn And Strive For It To Be(come).
Between the Divine Absolutely Unlike, Other, Different Unique, on the hand,
and Anything And Everything We Know, on the other.
Between what Herman Melville called – what is 'kind to our mortalities', on the one hand, and what is the 'God aw(e)ful truth' of things – how they really are, on the other.
And this – very much including ourselves, our very own selves – as individuals and as our collective communities, traditions, nations – and all of us together in our common humanity.
There is the present given reality as it is versus the imagined ideal reality as it should, ought to be – can be but now isn't. This distance repeats in the Passover Seder:
Now we are slaves. Next year we will be free. Before our ancestors were idol worshipers. Now the Ever-Present-Place-of-and-Beyond-the-Universe has brought us to His/Its service. Now we are here. Next year in Jerusalem.
Always this distance – so that if we are conducting the Seder in Jerusalem, we still see ourselves in this constant Not-Yet – for then we say:
Next year in the rebuilt Jerusalem.
For there is 'the lower/earthly Jerusalem' as it is now; but then there is 'the upper Jerusalem' which is our ideal Jerusalem – a Jerusalem that is always more just ethically, politically, economically; and more beautiful, more in-depth religiously, spiritually…
This can be diagrammed as two circles – with some overlap:
How-the-world-and-everything-in-it-is is not identical with how we want it to be, how we imagine it in its ideal or more ideal state. Though there usually is some overlap. The world – again, including my self – as it is and the world as it should, can be(come) – there is some overlap. The world as it is already; partially how it should be. But there remains a gap, a difference that demands our striving to narrow, to lessen that distance. Yet to always be on guard that complete redemption is not possible. Indeed, to come to see it as fully accomplished would be dangerous. For then we would miss what can, what should be critiqued, questioned, challenged.
This always deferred coming of the Messiah is how we can understand Franz Kafka's riddle – when he wrote:
The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come on the day after his arrival; he will come, not on the last day, but on the very last.
And, likewise, the meaning of Yeshaiyahu Leibowitz's formulation:
A Jew who believes the Messiah has arrived violates our obligation to believe in the coming of the Messiah; for we are obligated to believe that 'he will come'!
A young Israeli film-maker named Lea Klibanoff has made a documentary, released in 2010, called "The Messiah will always come". She focuses on the work of Peace Now activist Hagit Ofran, granddaughter of Professor Leibowitz. Since she began working for Peace Now, she has been traveling across Judea and Samaria monitoring settlement development. All alone, she documents the growing number of caravans and land confiscations, photographing each and every detail. Hagit’s unending journey confronts her time and again with the settlers. This awakens the pain and rage she feels towards the religious community, which she herself hails from, while evoking the reasons that led her to stop being religiously observant. Yet this journey also evokes her deep connection to Judaism and her love for the land of Israel, the land she crosses in her travels.
(This is obviously only one side of a very complicated picture. There are some Israelis who believe that it’s possible to reconcile the settlement movement, or at least some of it, with recognition of legitimate Palestinian rights. )
"The Messiah will always come"
Director & cinematographer: Lea Klibanoff
Editor: Thalia Hoffman
Music: Dan Karger
The film was supported by: The Yehoshua Rabinovich Foundation.
And this is the meaning of Yehuda Amichai's poem 'On the Broad Plaza Steps [Leading to the Western Wall] – Lying in Wait to Ambush Happiness'! [from Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems (Sheep Meadow Press, 1992)]
On the Broad Plaza Steps [Leading to the Western Wall]
Lying in Wait to Ambush Happiness
On the broad steps leading down to the Western Wall
A beautiful woman came up to me: You don’t remember me,
I’m Shoshana in Hebrew. Something else in other languages:
All is vanity.
Thus she spoke at twilight standing between the destroyed
And the built, between the light and the dark.
Black birds and white birds changed places
With the great rhythm of breathing.
The flash of tourists’ cameras lit my memory too:
What are you doing here between the promised and the
Between the hoped for and the imagined?
What are you doing here lying in wait for happiness
With your lovely face a tourist advertisement from God
And your soul rent and torn like mine?
She answered me: My soul is rent and torn like yours
But it is beautiful because of that
Like fine lace.
Translated by Glenda Abramson & Tudor Parfitt
Title translated by Steve Copeland
On the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai
Jonathan Wilson's very fine thoughts on this great wordsmith ~ 'easy on the surface and yet profound: humorous, ironic and yet full of passion, secular but God-engaged, allusive but accessible, charged with metaphor and yet remarkably concrete' ~ 'forever turning stillness into movement and vice versa'
In the Hebrew – the way the Hebrew expression-idea 'between' works is that the word between
– beyn - בין –
repeats so that what's translated here as 'between the hoped for and the imagined' - in Hebrew – it actually reads like this; 'between the hoped for and between the imagined'.
This is important because in the poem the word 'between' indeed is repeated – a repetition that is felt even more so in the Hebrew.
The last three lines of the poem are a take-off – an interpretation – of three words from the biblical book The Song of Songs – chapter 1, the first three words of verse 5:
שחורה אני ונאוה.
Literally: 'I am black but beautiful.'
In other words, I am dark – meaning divided – between life's contradictions;
but because of that – I am beautiful, sensitive, deep, response-able to life in all its demanding complexity.
Considering all this ~ sharing this with others ~ in a context of Jews together with fellow Jews ~ as well as in a context in which Jews and Christians come together committed to working for a better understanding of one another
~ try ~ after considering these texts and formulations concerning this relation between what is and what should be, can be
~ try ~ either as individuals first or in smaller groups of two or three ~ giving expression to what you think, what you might 'take away' from all this ~ giving expression to your response to this relation, this phenomenon of the-between, the distance between the/a present given reality and the/an imagined ideal reality
~ try giving expression to that via the making of a collage ~ some combining of shapes & colors to be cut out & drawn, pasted and interrelated.
This is an approach that Jo Milgrom, among others, has developed with particular sensitivity.
You can find out more about this approach in her book Handmade Midrash: Workshops in Visual Theology – A Guide for Teachers, rabbis and lay leaders.
Most of the introduction to this book ~ as well as some other pages from it ~ is available online at amazon.com
Clicking on the picture of the book's cover brings up access to these pages. A few of the pages in the introduction are missing, but these can be accessed by entering in the box called – Search in this book – by entering any word really that is likely to be found in many pages of this book – such as Midrash. Then on the left hand side of our computer screen there's a list of pages with that word in it. Clicking on the phrases of a missing page will bring up that page on our screen.
Try it – and see what happens as each person or each small group share what they come up with – with your whole group come together again!
More from Martin Buber
~ on the idea of the ideal that is inherent in Zionism ~
Zion inherently and always represents an ideal yet to be fully realized.
Zion is the center of Judaism. But what will be the center of that center?